BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA
You wouldn't have expected much from the modest young man who moved to the big city from his backwater country home and ended up in an artsy halfway house peddling hand-painted postcards to pay for his next meal.
He was a late-blooming boy; a congenital late sleeper whose dad thought he was lazy and underachieving (a perception shared by many others). A dreamy kid who was bad at spelling and grammar, he was a scatterbrain who was always running late. Plus, he was terrifically boring and normal in the way he loved his mom, his sweet cakes heaped with whipped cream and his white fox terrier.
And yet from these humble beginnings emerged the man German historian Volker Ullrich calls, in his spellbinding new book "Hitler: Ascent (1889-1939)," a "sensationalist, pop-cultural icon of horror."
Ullrich explains that part of his reason for reconsidering Hitler is that since the global entertainment industry has created a caricature designed to "send the maximum shivers down audiences' spines," the phenomenon of the dictator stands to lose all connection to real life.
And so over the course of 998 pages, Ullrich leads us through Hitler's early life and his rise to power, before chillingly concluding this first of two volumes with Hitler nearly killing the Czechoslovakian president Emil Hacha during a late-night bullying session in which Hitler secured that country's forced break-up.
Ullrich starts us off with what few details the world has about Hitler's youth, then the disappointment that Hitler's social-climbing father felt about his moody son's artsy aspirations. We quickly move to Adolf's time in Vienna (where he lived alongside Jews in a men's home), his gratitude to his mother's Jewish doctor during her long and ultimately fatal battle with breast cancer, his seven years of struggle to make it as an artist and, eventually, his unimpressive military service.
Then things get interesting.